Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst

Source: Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast (mp3)
Length: 39 minutes
Reader: Miette

The story: When I first read this short story in early high school, it was presented as sort of an "Introduction to Symbolism" text. I don't know how at the time I thought the symbolism obtuse, when reading it again it seems so explicitly stated. Having just read and enjoyed Moby Dick, it's interesting to see how far I've come in my lifetime as a reader.

The story itself is presented as a childhood memory. Hurst contrasts the idyllic nostalgia of the relationship between him and his little brother Doodle with the darker undertones of the story. These causally mentioned themes - the desire to kill Doodle as a baby, the cruelty that grows out of the narrator's pride, and the background of the carnage of World War I - combine with other more subtle, morbid clues to make a story that's worth rereading.

Rating: 8 / 10

The reader: Miette is a charming reader. She's by no means perfect - her reading at two seperate times is hilariously interrupted by a tweeting bird and a chiming tone - but this, and her embarrassed "Sorry" just adds to the charm. She reads slowly, but with meaningful inflection. I find her accent lovely, but some people may have trouble understanding a few words. As the title of the podcast suggests, this is not a professional reading, but the kind of intimate storytelling you would expect at your bedside.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 24 hr, 38 min
Reader: Stewart Wills

The book: Moby Dick. For years this was a book that I didn't feel ready to tackle. Of course, I knew the hype of it being the Greatest American Book Ever Written, but I'm often disappointed by hype and wary of nineteenth century literary prose. I'd heard about the long passages that dealt entirely with whaling practices or the whiteness of the whale. I'd also run into innumerable references to it in other works, which is usually a cosmic sign from the Literary Gods that I should read a particular book. Like the White Whale itself, this book held both fear and fascination for me.

So, when I started actually reading it, I was surprised how much I liked it. The legendary Ishmael I had heard so many jokes about is a funny, sarcastic guy himself. The view of the world is surprisingly enlightened for its time, simultaneously taking part in and subverting the view of non-Europeans as savages.The parts on whale anatomy are there, sure enough, but as a biologist, I found that I actually enjoyed them. My fears relieved I was able to get into the book.

What a book! Peeking at an annotated copy in the library, I begin to realize how many symbolic and historical references I was missing. Even so, I caught many of the Biblical and literary allusions Melville was throwing out. Catching these morsels made the reading like an obscure game - great fun for people who can play, but baffling if you don't know the rules. I don't think this is a book that I would have liked as a high schooler, and I'm glad my English teacher never assigned it. This is a book that rewards a mature mind with the background of years of reading.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: Like with many long audiobooks, this is one I read part as an ebook and listened to part as an audiobook. As I went along, I found myself more and more listening to Steward Wills excellent narration and going back to the printed text only to reread parts I didn't fully understand. Wills is a great narrator for such a complex book. He has a patience to his pace without being so slow as to make the story boring. His characterizations of the different sailors are magnificent, especially important in the chapters written as stage directions. I'm sure there are some pretty high-priced versions of Moby Dick read by famous people, but you couldn't do much better than this free production.

Entered in Cym Lowell's Book Review Part Wednesday. Follow the link for more book review blogs,